Old wounds

THE rotting flesh, swelling and bubbles of gas that characterise gas gangrene are caused by a protein in bacteria that is similar to mammalian proteins. Clostridium perfringens releases an “alpha toxin”, which bursts cells and kills tissue. By picking apart its chemical structure, Ajit Basak, Claire Naylor and their colleagues at Birkbeck College in London have unmasked the two enzymes that make up the toxin (Nature Structural Biology, vol 5, p 659 and 738). Although both enzymes help to anchor the toxin to cell walls, one—which binds to calcium—plays the lead role in toxicity. “In the absence of the calcium-binding domain, it’s much less toxic,
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